To me, TWS claims appeared flawed or false, and support for plantation forestry in any guise seemed an extraordinarily risky tactic. While it was clear that the intent may have been to try to protect Tassie’s forests by shifting the industry to plantations, it was equally clear that forestry interests couldn’t be trusted to leave the forests alone. This seemed particularly true given that they have a wood supply agreement for 20 years at $15 tonne delivered to their chippers while plantation timber costs over $35 tonne just to grow.

Bloggers also reminded that Gunns wanted 7 million tonnes of green timber per year, 4 million for a pulp mill to convert into fibre, and 3 million to chip and sell overseas. Those 7 million tonnes per year would cost Tasmania’s environment dearly – chemical sprays, log trucks, mill outfalls, water use and so on.
I tried to contact TWS several times to either verify or deny the story but got no response, so I went with the story I had based on the materials I had obtained – just like Lois Lane would.

Predictably, the story flushed out some interesting objections, some of which were personal attacks, and some of which accused me of ‘attacking’ TWS.

My comments were placed on record on Tasmanian Times, a citizen journalism site that was intended for exactly those purposes, to put ideas out there, question what was going on, and provide a forum for ideas directly from the public – a kind of Tasmanian Raw Story.

After raising my concerns about the statements made by TWS, I still had no clear response from them and was going to write further on the issue this weekend.

On Saturday, I managed to contact a senior TWS staffer on the mainland and, after a lengthy series of emails, he thanked me for my information and promised to act upon it. Here is what I said that I imagine caused him to respond in that way…

If a pulp mill goes ahead courtesy of some deal between Gunns/Sodra, and TWS is somehow seen to be a party to that deal, then everything that people dislike about the outcome can be laid at TWS door by forestry and anyone else.

The forestry industry is quite able to trumpet TWS support, say that whatever mill problems occur were supported by TWS, claim their plantations will save the climate, push for more tax breaks (they can’t manage without them) and so on. Furthermore they could easily claim environmental support for the proposed 35 million ha of plantations to be established under the guise of a carbon sink. Those areas simply don’t have the water – the plantation estate requires more water than Australia has available.

Hopefully it is clear. The risk was, and still is, to TWS brand and credibility which means a threat to peoples’ understanding of what TWS is all about. If TWS supports the plantation industry and a pulp mill, how does that square with their pressing for an ‘anti-pulp mill alliance’ (APMA)? How can APMA possibly support a pulp mill? It’s a major ‘brand conflict’.

My TWS contact clearly understood this because they responded that GreenPeace was in a world of hurt in Canada for similar reasons to the ones that I outlined in my email.

The problem remains and I proposed to not publish further on this matter for at least 1 week in order to give my contact time to research the matter within TWS, and establish whether TWS had a more useful response to community concerns about their positioning (brand), and support for plantation forestry.

To those who believe that TWS is somehow exempt from scrutiny, I argue that it is scrutiny that helps organisations to remain viable and open. It was scrutiny that allowed me to present such a strong case to TWS. I also believe that it was exactly this kind of examination that tripped up mill supporters, and that has enabled so many people to be so well informed of the many risks and hazards presented by the project.

During this recent palaver, I and Tasmanian Times came under attack, as if both TT and I were somehow responsible for whatever problems TWS were experiencing.

I’d like to present a stout defence and it is that TWS problems were created by TWS, just as Gunns problems were created by Gunns.

I didn’t create their problems… I reported and commented upon them. There is a big difference.

I believe a useful role for citizen journalists and commentators is to explore the issues, try to contact people to clarify what is happening, alert people to the risks and report on any evidence and candidate conclusions in any areas neglected or distorted by the mainstream media.

I intend to maintain that approach and I thank Lindsay again for providing a community forum that allows fearless comment, and for his support of integrity in reporting. To the best of my knowledge I have made no claims that are not backed up by written evidence or via published media reports.

I try to explain all of my reasoning and provide links whenever possible (although I’m not sure that facility is available on the new TT just yet).

More plantations? Mechanical pulp mill? Advocating actions that would affect communities without consulting them? Citizen representation? Government lies and propaganda? Leaks and corruption?

These matters are community matters that should concern us all, particularly given the collapse of government and representative support. We may not always like what we hear but it seems to me that we’ve got precious few other protections other than openness, honesty and evidence based reporting and comment. It’s up to citizen reporters and publishers to act with integrity and surely we can do no worse than our governments?

No organisation operating in the public domain should be exempt from review and critical comment in areas where evidence exists, particularly where their actions impact upon the general public.

Watch this space.

Mike Bolan

Mike is a complex systems consultant, change facilitator and executive/management coach.

Note. The author welcomes constructive criticism and new information that adds to our understanding of these matters.